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Chess on TV

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I don't watch much network TV -- I have two small kids and too much work and if I had time to do that I'd spend it sleeping. That doesn't mean I'm not up for checking out a series once it's available on streaming or DVD. Two I recently dropped into my Netflix streaming queue are Dollhouse and 24, which I've never seen and honestly don't much expect to like, but the real-time thing is a cool concept and I figured I'd give it a try. I was five minutes into the first episode of the first season of 24 and there was a chessboard between the lead super-agent character, Jack Bauer, and his teenage daughter. (Yeah, right.) And Dollhouse, a silly/sexy techno-thriller series that's already been canceled, also makes a feature of a chessboard in the same way. That way, of course, is the "establish the character as a braniac, especially if he's mostly an action guy who needs some quick and easy Sherlock Holmes cred via a prop in the corner of the room."

The other way is even more cliche, the "he's a geek" way, which is its use in Dollhouse. Slightly ironically, considering Josh Whedon's massive rep in the geek world, mostly thanks to Buffy (which I haven't seen either), the chessboard in the tech guy's room in Dollhouse is perpetually turned 90 degrees. I doubt anyone would bother with a joke that subtle, and since the position changes regularly I guess someone in the crew is quite sure that "black square on the right" is the way to go. It was correct in that 24 scene, but having established Jack's smarty-pants cred I doubt we'll see the board again after he gets busy shooting people in the kneecaps.

I usually take this opportunity to drop Tim Krabbe's theory that the black square on the right must be more aesthetically pleasing somehow, since it seems to be that way more than 50% of the time. I think it's more that we only really notice it, or at least blog about it, when it's wrong.

Hmm, first episode of 24 is half through and I already have no idea what's going on. I think Jack just shot someone he's working with in the kneecap.


Someone went to the insane effort of putting together a comprehensive "chess in movies and television" collage for YouTube.

Chess Rhapsody - by now there are five or six in the series. Here's number 1.

Being near autistic, I spent time counting how many of the boards were set up wrong.


White on the right makes might.

Whenever the topic "chess on TV" comes up, I cannot resist the opportunity to tout the episode of the old "Mission Impossible" series in which they brought out a 1960's era computer, with reel-to-reel tape and flashing lights, that played chess at super-GM level (and also speeded up all the clocks and watches in its vicinity, an important plot point).

But even more wild than the tech stuff was the chess tournament that they staged, a GM tournament apparently open to all comers, in which Peter Graves (I THINK it was him), despite being a complete mystery man, gets a game with the world champion, a Slavic GM and officer in the equivalent of the KGB, and, comp-cheating with a radio earpiece, beats him in an 18-move miniature with the two-rook sacrifice, stunning the room full of GMs none of whom can see three ply ahead. Enraged by this, the WC explodes: "NO PODDY MEKS MOOFS LIKE THAT! NOT LASKARR! NOT NIEMSSOVEECH! WHO ARE YOU! WHAT ARE YOU!!" They cut to commercial, and when they return Graves coolly declares, "I think I'm the man who's going to win this tournament!"

Alas, I don't remember what color h1 was in this dramatic game :-)

Slightly off topic here, but Satyajit Ray made a famous movie called Shatranj ke Khilari (Chess Players) which is on youtube...

See also, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0076696/

The problem I have with 24 is there just isn't enough action.

Haha, I love those old "MI" episodes. Another peculiar thing about chess in movies and television is how everyone, amateur or master, has a disturbing blind spot for mates in one move ("You should have taken care to safeguard your king, my friend ... Checkmate!" - "Damn you!"). For dramatic reasons, obviously, but come on.

I can remember Sam on Cheers beating the billionaire Robin(?) in a 1-move oversight after Norm's bartab chewed up all the memory on the computer they were using to cheat. Hey, it happens to Kramnik, even.

Get Smart had one where Max was hypnotized to shoot anyone who said CheckMate - this was to get him to kill the Chief (who always beat him), but Max decided to read Reinfeld that day ("Chess is a game that you and your friends can have a lot of fun with"), which led to sloooow play, and the perp of the plot got too anxious, crying CheckMate himself.


I agree, chess in movies usually bears no relation to the actual playing of the game. If anything it proves that chess will never be for the masses, as the moviemakers feel a need to simplify to the point of things being ridiculous. Or else exaggerate wildly, as when the nerd in Criminal Minds throws a glance at a chess board and declares mate in 13.

As a chess enthusiast, you can't but love the setting as From Russia with Love begins, but when the bad guy Kronsteen gets a message (yoghurt style), he decides to end the game in one move, to the shock of his opponent MacAdams, who must have won his place at the match in a raffle to be as surprised and impressed as he clearly is.


Silman spent a lot of time preparing the moves for the chess game in The Sorcerer's Stone, clearly unaware of what happens to dead time in the movie editing room.

Hans Ree in NIC had another explanation in a column where he writes about visiting a chess shop in Bologna, I believe. It was something like this: 'the owner of a chess shop should know', he reasons, but apparently more people enter the shop when it's set up wrongly...

Yes, in movies, as a rule, no chess player is ever more than one wrong move away from instant mate, and the better player is always able to finish the game at will.
I guess screen writers consider a chess (tournament) game to be a great way of conveying drama and emotion, since no two opponents ever just sit quietly and make their moves, as they would in a real-life competitive situation, but instead display all manner of theatrical expressions: the losing player chewing his knuckles, gasping in disbelief, his eyes anxiously shifting between the board and the opponent, who just planted his Q firmly in the enemy camp, yelled "Check!" and is now leaning back with a villainous smirk worthy of a silent movie. Great stuff for actors.

One thing can be said about Jack Bauer...the dude can handle stress! Whew!

Check out Criminal Minds series on Netflix...Mandy Patinkin always plays chess...and he is strong and cerebral even though he has suffered from job related stress and had an old fashioned "nervous breakdown"

Also watch Law and Order CI 4th season episode "Gone" for yet another paranoid chess master. (Just remember...you call it paranoia, I call it heightened awareness)

Sigh! I wish they would make a movie of Tal's life based on Genna Sosonko's profile of him in "My Misha".

Great post. I see the similar mistakes repeat over and over again.

It's mind-boggling how can the media portrait chess as a "smart" sport while they never bother to check if they get the details/rules of chess right (as simple as setting the board or even pieces right). They think the general public is too dumb to notice the difference??

Here's another example, in the TV series "Monk", Season 7, episode #702, "Mr. Monk and the Genius", this "supposed" super GM Patrick Kloster (whose IQ is higher than Einstein's), while playing chess live on TV in Vancouver, he castles with BOTH hands - first touching his rook then king, and move them simultaneously with a flare, like it's some sort of super fancy gesture!! I bet if you look closely, he probably castles on the wrong squares too! My 9-year-old son's been play chess competitively for 2 years and this scene drove him nuts!!!! Even a beginner knows castling involves two steps and you must move your KING first to castle.


RE: MI episode...

If I remember correctly, later on in the show when the GM is being let in on the computer usage, he plays a game against it, and is mated in 4 moves (with the Scholar's Mate)! He then asks, "Will it beat me every time?" And the answer is "Every time."

I was very young, but knew even then that a computer that played absolutely perfectly would NEVER put *me* in the SM, much less a grandmaster!!!



This, my friend, is how a true master - a genius - castles:


Mig, you should check out The Sarah Connor Chronicles through NetFlix. Computer chess plays a very prominent role in the plot of the series, and there's even an appearance of the Kramnik-Deep Fritz poster.

The Mentalist is the place for some kind of chess literacy. A couple weeks ago he played the white side of a QGD orthodox defense playing blindfold against some games/devious computer mayhem guy, although he did say "interesting, you declined the gambit" one move before he offered the gambit, unfortunately. But earlier in the series he also talked about the Advance French with a position on the board that was clearly a French Advance. Someone writing that show can play.

Hands down, Buffy was the best television show of all time. It even edges out The Rise and Fall of Reginal Perrin by a nose, er a fang. As Bob Dylan says, I say it's so so it must be so.

Still, I don't recall a single episode of Buffy that employed a chessboard prop or chess as a theme.

. . . .


In 2007 I received a draft of a "treatment for television" for a chess TV show, from a prominent chess personality. I felt it had strengths but also areas for improvement.

For the curious, the above HTTP address is the alternative treatment for TV that I was prompted to write.

. . . .

Nakamura vs. Shulman, after Rxg5, would make a perfect chess scene. ½ hour (about one fourth of the entire movie) without any moves but still a lot of action.

Phx: I don't believe "Buffy" ever used chess as a theme per se, but I recall numerous references to the Sunnydale High chess club (and their supposed rivalry with the cheerleaders and/or French club).

Mig: Being a geek doesn't stop one from making anti-geek jokes. In fact, some of the most brutal geek-skewerings come from TV writers who have a *bit too much inside insight* into the geek world, if you know what I mean.

LOL!! I can't believe you found it!! This is the part where he plays Monk at the end. I guess legally you can castle with both hands, or not??

Do you know that this guy also plays the pieces with one hand then hit the clock with another?

Yah, saying "check" menacingly, as if it's all but decisive, is another obnoxious one, probably even more obnoxious to chessplayers than having the board wrong. Instant eye-roll, instant proof that the writer is clueless.

I did look at the Sarah Connor episodes awhile back just to see the main chess bits. I even took a chunk of the bit where he's looking at the Kramnik-Fritz poster and used it in the slideshow of Garry's keynote speech at the Nashville Supernationals last year. Fun stuff. Didn't much care for the show though.

Will look into Criminal Minds, though I've never enjoyed any of the legal or criminal procedurals at all. I do like me some Mandy Patinkin, however. He rocked that cool show about dead people that Showtime made a few years ago. Plus, he was Iñigo Montoya and deserves respect.

Another common continuation is the menacing "Check," followed by the immediate reply, "Check MATE!"

Is this even possible to set up???


I'm afraid the chess genius is in trouble, as far as the rules of chess are concerned, ppmint.

- the king is transferred from its original square two squares towards the rook on its original square, then that rook is transferred to the square the king has just crossed.

There are quite a few chess diva scenes, where actors avail themselves of the opportunity to send pieces flying to show how pent up they are with righteous indignation at the turn of events.
These usually come to a bad end as the story progresses.

For connoisseurs of the improbable in chess: find movies where members of the aristocracy or royals topple the King to indicate a loss.
This was considered the gravest of lèse majesté, and became popular in the coffee houses where they were brewing revolution when not playing chess.
A royal or aristocrat would never do such a thing, and duels have been fought when people took offense at the act.

I wrote "the gravest of lèse majesté"- there were quite a few offenses to the King that ranked above the toppling of a chess monarch. But it was considered a serious affront to the majesty, and still is in some circles.

As a bonus: Here's Schenk, who wrote the Immortal Game, demonstrating what he means by the term "very mediocre" when he describes his own playing. From 3:45


The autist in me finds that board very difficult to look at, by the way.


I'm with you on that one. Yes it can be set up though.


... rh8+
rh4 mate

"...who have a 'bit too much inside insight into the geek world, if you know what I mean'".

Not that there's anything wrong with that!

As a *huge* fan of Dollhouse, I continually posted on Dollhouses's Facebook page that the board was orientated incorrectly, but they never fixed it.

Give Dollhouse until episode 6 of season 1, where is suddenly increases an order of magnitude in quality. (Eps 2-4 are silly, 5 is ok, but 6 and beyond are fabulous).

First, thank you for consistently entertaining posts, Mig! (There, some flattery may help you overlook the fact that I'm going to go wildly off-topic here ... no, seriously, great reading. And this thread looks dormant anyway, so I hope no one will mind, or care.)

But since the show "Criminal Minds" was mentioned, I have something to say about it that has nothing to do with chess but instead with Lame Use Of Lingo on TV shows. For instance, in one episode of that show, they have a weird, troubled computer wiz kid in custody, and since he won't talk, they send in their quirky computer chick (a mandatory part on these shows, whose job it is to find any kind of impossible information in a matter of seconds, and to have the regular field agents go "In English!" when they explain something about what they do) to gain his confidence. She strikes up a conversation and goes on to say something like "Btw, your computer's really cool". (That's right, she says "bee-tee-double-u".) Oh-em-gee, talk about instant eye-roll. And what's with actually saying "GSW" for "gunshot wound" on every forensic show? That only makes sense in writing. And for the love of God, stop saying "unsub" for a second. And while I'm at it, all you serial killers out there on the air: there's really no need to base your killing sprees on the seven deadly sins, or the Mayan calendar, or the writings of Pliny or anything elaborate like that. That's just giving the bookish geek agent on the team an opportunity to show off.

But I digress. That is all, and here is your soap box back. Thanks!

I have to agree, whenever chess is showed in TV-shows it's usually in a very obvious and boring way (although I think they made a pretty good effort in the terminator series).

However I've recently discovered this Swedish TV-show about chess, ChessTV ( www.chesstv.eu ), which is actually quite interesting. Although they are on "summer-break" I can't stop myself from working my way through the archive on the site. There is just something capturing about their constant enthusiasm for chess...

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will there ever b chess on tv not just web sites for tournaments chess tv channel

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